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Normally the chat among board members on Habitat Magazine’s online Board Talk forum concerns dry matters like voting procedures and laundry room renovations. Not so for a recent gossipy thread about an affair between a superintendent and a married co-op owner.
The tale made us wonder: What are the rules about romantic relationships between staff and residents?
Michael Wolfe, the president of Midboro Management, says that the collective bargaining agreement covering unionized employees in co-op and condo buildings is silent on the matter. It's up to each building to adopt a "no-fraternization policy," and many have not.
So are romantic liaisons a firing offense? The chatroom participants on Habitat's Board Talk forum seemed to favor a consenting-adults approach, but Aaron Shmulewtiz, a real estate lawyer whose firm represents 300 co-op and condo boards mostly in Manhattan, draws a harsher line.
“I’ve had several instances where building staff were involved with residents and in each instance the building employee was terminated,” he says.
Affairs are troubling for several reasons, he says.
“What happens if and when they fall out of love? Does the super just go about his business and treat the shareholder like all the others? Does he stop having access to her apartment?” he questions.
If the shareholder is on the board, it’s even more problematic: “Let’s say other people on the board feel the guy is a terrible super—but this one person protects them. It’s bad for the building. On the flip side, what if the relationship ends and the woman wants the super fired? The building is damaged as a result of that because a good super is being fired,” says Shmulewitz.
Termination on the grounds of fornication is a costly proposition. Shmulewitz’s boards have paid between $10,000 to $100,000 to keep romantic liaisons under the covers.
“Ninety-nine percent of building workers are union employees, and if he’s smart, the super will file a grievance proceeding against the building for wrongful termination, which will involve having the paramour testify, which no one wants,” explains Shmulewitz, who says fired workers usually find a job quickly in another union building.
To avoid embarrassment, boards typically reach a settlement.
“How much depends on all sorts of questions,” says the attorney. “If it’s a Park Avenue building and the super has had sex with the wife of the board president, that’s worth a whole lot of money.”